February 17, 2006

Crime-wracked Mexican state wants loan to buy guns

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Wracked by violent drug crime and
too poor to arm its police properly, the Mexican state of
Guerrero is seeking a $24 million bank loan to buy more guns
and security equipment.

The local government plans to use the credit, approved by
its Congress, to get guns, communications gear and police cars
for the most cash-strapped parts of Guerrero, one of Mexico's
poorest states, the state government said on Friday.

"We want to seek a credit line to acquire transportation
and arms," a state government spokesman said.

Guerrero, whose craggy hills hide numerous marijuana and
poppy fields, is home to the Pacific resort of Acapulco, which
is grappling with a wave of killings between rival drug gangs.

Local police are hampered by a lack of good roads in much
of the southern state, nestled between the Sierra Madre
mountain range and the Pacific Ocean.

"It's much more complicated in isolated municipalities that
don't have a road infrastructure, that don't have arms or the
equipment to combat crime," Guerrero Governor Zeferino
Torreblanca told Reuters.

"We want to have 250 million pesos (around $24 million)
with a credit line that enables the 81 town councils to have a
comparable set of arms," he said.

Acapulco has suffered an explosion of drug violence in
recent months that marks a low point in the city's slow fall
from grace since the 1950s, when the Hollywood set flocked to
frolic on yachts and in seaside villas.

Drug smugglers are increasingly using bays and coves near
Acapulco to land cocaine from Colombia and then take it
overland to the United States.

A report in January by a security think tank called
Acapulco the country's fifth worst city for the number of
crimes committed per person -- a poorer record than even Mexico
City, one of the world's most dangerous capitals.

While the federal government is fighting what President
Vicente Fox has called "the mother of all battles" on drug
gangs, Guerrero is taking some of its own measures including a
purge of police forces and the move to buy weapons on credit.

Torreblanca, who aims to broaden Guerrero's taxpayer base
to boost future revenues, said he was also planning to seek
credit lines to fund new roads, jails and hospitals.